Amid a scare of the highly infectious Omicron variant of the COVID virus, the top health agency warned the South-East Asia Region to take extra precautions to curb the spread of the virus. Notably, the statement from Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Region came after the scientists of South Africa identified a new version of the Coronavirus called B.1.1529, Omicron.
With the detection of the new variant in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province, the World Health Organisation also sent a delegation of experts to collaborate with the scientists to quicken the action needed to curb the spread of infection. On Saturday, WHO released a statement in which the health agency appealed to countries in South-East Asia Region to gear up the monitoring and strengthen of public health and social measures, and also enhance vaccination coverage.
“Though COVID-19 cases have been declining in most countries of our Region, the surge in cases elsewhere in the world and confirmation of a new Variant of concern, is a reminder of the persisting risk and the need for us to continue to do our best to protect against the virus and prevent its spread. At no cost should we let our guards down,” said Dr Poonam in a statement released on Saturday.
People must follow COVID norms to prevent Omicron variant
According to Dr poonam, who is the first Indian national woman to assume the office of WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, the countries need to boost their infrastructure to deal with any untoward situation in the coming months. She also insisted on keeping an eye on international travel, especially those who are arriving from the infected regions.
She said that they should assess the risk of importation through international travel based on updated information on circulating variants and response capacities, and take measures accordingly, Singh said in the statement.
“Comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures to prevent transmission must continue. The earlier the protective measures are implemented, the less restrictive they would need to be in order to be effective. The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities the virus will have to change and mutate, and the pandemic will last longer,” the Regional Director said.
Further, she added that the people of the region need to take basic precautions like wearing a mask properly, keeping a maximum distance, avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, keeping hands clean, covering cough and sneeze, and getting vaccinated in order to weed out the highly infectious virus.
“As of today 31 per cent of the Region’s population is fully vaccinated, 21 per cent partially vaccinated while nearly 48 per cent, or about a billion people are yet to receive even a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said, adding that they continue to be at risk of contracting severe disease due to the virus and spreading it further.
New COVID variant detected in travellers from Hong Kong and Botswana
While speaking to AP, an official from the WHO said that the researchers are investigating the source of the virus that has led to the recent spike in South Africa. In addition, they revealed that the first case of a new COVID variant was detected in South Africa and the same has also been detected in travellers from Hong Kong and Botswana.
It is worth mentioning that the country has reported nearly 200 cases of Coronavirus in the past two weeks ago. However, with the newly detected variant, the cases in South African nations went to 2,465. Notably, the difference of nearly 2,400 cases was reported within three days.